Happy Valentine’s Day! The whole board of the Romance Writers of America has resigned.
Treasurer Nan Dixon, along with directors-at-large Hanna Rhys Barnes, Kate McMurray, Maria Powers, Mellanie Szereto, and Eliana West, announced they would leave their positions in a statement on Wednesday. Former president Damon Suede and executive director Carol Ritter resigned last month.
The resignations are the latest in a chain of events that began when author Courtney Milan publicly called Kathryn Lynn Davis’ 1999 novel Somewhere Lies the Moon racist, after which Davis and member Suzan Tisdale filed official complaints against Milan. RWA disciplined Milan, a decision that brought anger from a number of members who said it reflected a larger pattern of racism in the romance writing community. (If you want to read about it in more detail, you can do so here.)
The statement said:
We believe that stepping down to allow for new leadership chosen by the membership is in the best interests of the association. The Board has always wanted what is best for Romance Writers of America, and we still do. This desire has been the driving force behind every decision we have made to try to navigate RWA during this difficult time. We have tried hard to keep the best interests of RWA front and center as we have confronted the challenges of the last eight weeks.
We believe that the Board must have the trust of the membership and that this is the best way forward to achieve that. We believe RWA can and will be a place of inclusion and respect. We tender our resignations in support of the organization and its mission.
There will be a special election to fill the board positions from March 13-20; those board members will serve the remainder of the term through August 31, at which point the regularly scheduled board election will take place.
So what happens now? Well, registration for RWA’s annual conference opens on March 10, so that should be fun for whoever starts filling in a week and a half later. But there are longer-term problems on the horizon, too: A number of writers in the community have said on Twitter that without changes to RWA’s bylaws, they’ll be left with a similar pool of candidates as before, raising concerns that they new board will continue to perpetuate the same attitudes that caused problems in the first place. In order to qualify for president of RWA, members must have belonged to RWA for five consecutive years, have published five romance novels (including at least one novel in the last two years), and must have “completed one full year of Board service.”
“Part of the reason RWA is having a problem finding a president is that there are two dozen, MAYBE, candidates eligible to run by our bylaws,” Bree Bridges, who along with Donna Herren writes under the name Kit Rocha, said on Twitter.
Earlier this week, N. K. Jemisin weighed in, pointing to broader issues of racism and underrepresentation in publishing:
I sure hope every writer's org is paying attention to what's destroying RWA. I sure hope every publisher is paying attention to how Macmillan f'ed up. I sure hope every small press and retailer is paying attention to what B&N did wrong.
Whew, 2020 has been a year already, huh?
— N. K. Jemisin (@nkjemisin) February 12, 2020
We’ll keep following what happens. In the meantime, at least one of us has her priorities in order:
RWA has taken enough energy from me today, yesterday, last week, last month… I need to focus back on how many orgasms are too many for the characters in my current WIP to have in a 24-hour span…
— Laurel Cremant / Snark Maven (@LaurelCremant) February 13, 2020